Q. What do some of the migratory birds that crash into buildings in the Loop have in common with suburban strip clubs?
A. Both are endangered species.
And, I should hasten to add, both reflect a diversity of stories seen exclusively in your favorite suburban newspaper.
Building up a 2-inch-tall stack of court documents, staff writer Jim Fuller put together today's exhaustively researched Page 1 story on the history of strip clubs, which were in their heyday three and four decades ago, to the delight of no one perhaps but the owners and customers.
The clubs have a pretty sordid history. They flourished in Lake County in the 1970s because a sheriff and county board chairman took kickbacks from the club owners. A strip joint in DuPage County was deemed partially responsible when a drunken patron crashed his car into one driven by a pregnant woman, killing her. Another club owner was gunned down execution-style.
Lake County started cracking down on clubs in the 1990s, passing several laws, all challenged constitutionally in court but aimed at addressing crime, the clubs' impact on neighborhoods and businesses, the spread of disease and a "dehumanizing and distracting influence" upon young people. By 2007, the final club closed.
Fuller talked to one county official who speculated that the Internet has put a huge dent in the strip club business, but today local and state regulations are so tight that it's impossible to have full nudity and alcohol consumption going on simultaneously. Some places have scantily attired dancers or lingerie shows, but that's about it.
Which brings us to the occasion for today's story. Would-be buyers of Blackjacks Gentlemen's Club in St. Charles Township just launched perhaps the final battle over the business. Some county leaders hoped the club would close when its owners went to prison a few years ago. That didn't happen, but last month a new strip club owner unsuccessfully asked the county for a liquor license with a promise to clean up the place. Instead of going away, the owner this month filed a lawsuit seeking $16 million from the county.
A much more refreshing story appeared in our Thursday editions: Robert Sanchez's piece on the Chicago Bird Collision Monitors, volunteers who make monthly treks to the Loop, the main place birds crash into buildings while heading from Central or South America to their summer breeding grounds in Wisconsin or Canada. (Full time city-dwelling birds are used the lighted skyscrapers, which fool the migratory birds.) They dispose of the dead birds, and bring the injured ones to Willowbrook Wildlife Center, an animal rehabilitation center in Glen Ellyn.
What I particularly liked about this bird piece was its humanity, that humans could put so much effort into rescuing such small creatures and declaring their demise a tragedy. "He avoided all sorts of trouble and weather and starvation, and then he hit a window," volunteer Annette Prince told Sanchez. "It just seems tragic that he almost made it to his breeding grounds. He was probably going up to Wisconsin or Canada where he would nest."
There's more to it than that, of course; many of these small migratory birds are on the endangered list. Their survival is critical in maintaining a healthy environment, as the birds help control the balance of insects, while pollinating plants and distributing seeds.
Saving tiny birds. Suburbs battling strip clubs. All in a week's work.